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Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013

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ray harryhausenBeloved, modest, and incredibly influential monster-making innovator Ray Harryhausen died May 7th at his home in London.  He was 92.  The sculptor and stop-motion genius brought bizarre creatures to life in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Clash Of The Titans (1981), more than a dozen feature films in between, and numerous short films.  

As a young lad in grade school, my interest in horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films was just taking root.  I did enjoy the occasional family outing to the movie theater or drive-in, and the movies we saw were often fantasy or sci-fi.  However, my parents were never into film, so my slow exposure to the vast world of genre movies came mostly while spending the night at friends’ houses.  I would catch the occasional 50s horror or science fiction flick on late night television, or sit in front the TV screen, fascinated, as a newfangled invention called a “VCR” introduced me to many horror, sci-fi, and fantasy motion pictures.  

Spending the night at my friend Dennis’s house, I saw my first Ray Harryhausen movie, thanks to a huge, top-loading VHS player.  The film was Clash Of The Titans, directed by Desmond Davis.  The film certainly had an impact on me.  Inspired, I shot my own stop-motion experiments with the family 8mm film camera.  

As my interest in filmmaking consumed me, I became more and more in awe of Mr. Harryhausen.  His skill and imagination were as impressive as the fact that each shot he created took tremendous patience, as it all was filmed a single frame at a time.  It was difficult to comprehend the focus necessary to achieve what Harryhausen brought to the screen.

20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), Jason And The Argonauts (1963), and Clash Of The Titans rose to the top as my favorite Harryhausen movies.  As the years passed, I became aware of how influential Harryhausen was to filmmakers of his era, as well as new generations of filmmakers.  Even in today’s CGI-dominated special-effects industry, leading artists routinely cite Harryhausen as a major influence.  It’s one thing to achieve something notable in film history… it’s another, much more striking accomplishment to have a bit of your soul in the work of the masters who continued where you left off. 

Two years ago this month, I wrote a piece for FEARnet about the evolution of stop-motion special effects, and the career of Ray Harryhausen.  Check it out here. Also two years ago, I penned an article for FEARnet about “The Top Ten Monsters Of Motion Picture History”  …in which I pitted the best beasts against each other.  I came up with this Top Ten by asking friends and professional associates which creatures they considered the all-time tops in movie monsters.  The fact that four of the ten were Harryhausen creations is an indication of how much the ol’ Harryhausen magic reverberates today.  

Ray Harryhausen’s films have been a fascination and an inspiration, starting from the earliest days of my learning about cinema.  He lived a long and remarkable life - and all of us film fans are thankful for that.  It’s just sad to know he’s left us, officially bringing the end of an era.  

Thanks for reading.

- Eric Stanze

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